Written by B-Rizz, Ellen, Karrie, & Mike
Traveling and Crossing the border
Packed with food and over-night bags we hit the road around mid-morning for our four hour trip to Bordeaux. The drive was what one would expect traveling through the Basque country of Northern Spain: breathtaking mountainous landscapes, rolling green hills, and vineyards as far as the eye could see. During our travels around Spain, we have grown accustomed to frequent toll booth stops, and this trip was no exception. Most tolls are usually pretty reasonable (2 to 3 euro), but sometimes you come across one that just rakes you over the coals (up to 15 euro!). However, since the condition of the highways in Spain are the most pristine and well kept roads I have ever driven on, I am willing, on occasion, to gouge my wallet a bit (a rare moment for an American when you actually see your money at work.)
About an hour north of Pamplona we began to look for official signs to indicate that we were crossing into France. We knew we were really close and it would be any time when we would see something official: a billboard or customs-like border station similar to the American/Canadian crossing. We eventually crossed another, seemingly ordinary toll booth, and the next thing we know, all the highway signs were in French! Ooookay…I guess we already crossed, but when?! The toll booth? There was no official sign there. I pulled my phone out to try and solve this little mystery, and found that I was in roaming status. Ah yes! I had totally forgotten that my cell service would not be compatible in another country! Flip it to airplane mode!!
The final leg of our drive was pretty uneventful, and since we were not actually staying in Bordeaux, but the country side, the scenery was nothing less than beautiful vineyards and small villages with ancient stone masonry and medieval architecture.
And our favorite Airbnb award goes to…
We knew we wanted to stay somewhere cozy for our long December weekend, but having so many options so close to us now that we have a European home-base made it difficult to narrow down exactly where to go. We looked at cheap airfare, places we can get to by train or car, and compared wish-list destinations to no avail—we still couldn’t settle on a place to stay! Elle decided to start doing random searches on Airbnb to see if there was a certain home that would sway a decision. After some searching, she decided to search with the “includes hot tub” filter to really up the cozy factor for this winter trip. Zooming in the search option to France gave a manageable list of places to look through. Before she knew it, the perfect place appeared – hot tub and all – just a short distance from Bordeaux in the French countryside. With a great price tag and a manageable travel distance (just a 4.5 hour drive from Logroño), she got the thumbs up from the Quad and booked the place.
The home was extraordinary. A restored 17th century wine estate with two rental lofts and the perfect mixture of old and new. The loft we stayed in had two beautiful bedrooms (one in the loft with a skylight that made for an especially snug rainy evening), two bathrooms, and an open kitchen/dining/living area. The sandstone walls and exposed beams showed the history of the building, while the contemporary concrete counters and updated appliances gave us our necessary modern conveniences. The design blended exquisitely and was punctuated by an amazing grand original fireplace.
The grounds of the estate featured the main house where the owners lived, another converted loft apartment, a large deck and outdoor pool (not for use in the winter), massive vine-covered oak trees, and the peaceful silence of the tiny hamlet of Bellefond.
We started our days in this charming loft with a basket of croissants, milk, and orange juice brought to our door each morning. We made coffee and took our time chatting and making a plan for the day. These plans usually consisted of a whole lot of “nothing”, which is exactly what we wanted for this trip! We took lovely walks around the small towns and vineyards, and made our way to the big city one day (see below!), but most of our time was spent in pure relaxation. We read books, cooked meals, played with the kittens (also see below!), and played games while the rain fell softly and the fireplace kept us warm. We made our way easily through several bottles of French and Spanish wine and enjoyed each other’s company in a blissful new setting.
We ended our evenings in a favorite indulgence of the Quad: the hot tub! When we first arrived, we saw a sectioned part of the outdoor pool that we thought was the advertised “jacuzzi” and were so disappointed to see that it was ice cold. Thankfully, we were quickly proven wrong by the host who pointed us to a small tower adjacent to our building that housed our actual precious hot tub! We have no idea how they engineered it, but the jacuzzi sat in the attic space of a small tower room that could only be accessed by a narrow stone staircase. In other words, it was the epitome of “cozy”.
B-Rizz here. Best part of the trip? I got to pet 6 cats every day for 5 days. They say a picture says a thousand words. So here are 8,000 words and a couple of videos for you:
Our day in the city of Bordeaux
Elle and B-Rizz had already been to France before this trip (Paris), but this was Karrie and Mike’s first visit to the country so maybe that is why the city of Bordeaux was so magically beautiful to us! We only spent one of our five days in Bordeaux, and we will definitely visit this city again. We loved seeing the grey stone buildings; beautiful architecture of the old churches, statues, and buildings; the Christmas market we stumbled across; and the narrow European streets lined with apartments. Everywhere we turned, there was something new and interesting to see.
Our day in the city, of course, began with visiting a café and having a coffee before starting to explore. We love how in France (and Spain) it is typical for each cup of coffee to be accompanied by some sort of small complimentary cookie or pastry.
Although on the way to finding a cafe, we took an unexpected detour into a Fossil store on the main shopping street in Bordeaux, Rue Sainte-Catherine, where B-Rizz and Karrie bought new wallets! Luckily after the salesperson excitedly said at least three sentences in French to us, the bewildered look on our faces cued her to speak perfect English!
Near the café was the beautiful gothic cathedral, The Cathedral of Saint Andrew of Bordeaux commonly known as Bordeaux Cathedral, that we explored and felt in awe of the architecture and the ancientness of the building. Mike was especially impressed with the gigantic pipe organ in the back of the church.
While wondering through the city we happened upon a Christmas market, filled with vendors selling everything from delicious-looking French cheeses and wines to handmade items to holiday trinkets. While Elle was ordering some mulled wine, she was unable to speak French and the vendor was unable to speak English, but luckily both of them were able to use enough Spanish to complete the transaction smoothly! Our newly acquired Spanish skills are already starting to pay off outside of Spain!
Next we walked through the city to find a famous statue, called Monument aux Girondins. The exquisite detail and workmanship of the statues was unlike anything we had seen before.
We then walked back through another part of the city, marveling at the beauty of everything we saw, while looking for a place to eat dinner. We decided upon a fairly casual restaurant, conveniently located near the underground garage (apparently very typical in European cities from what we’ve experienced so far) where we parked our rental car. We decided to be slightly adventurous and all sampled B-Rizz’s frog’s legs he ordered, because when in Rome….or in Bordeaux!
French Countryside and Vineyards
We traveled to France in early December, and the grey and rainy sky did not deter from the beauty we saw around our cottage and the surrounding areas. Living in the heart of Spain’s wine country has made seeing vineyards with thousands of grape vines a typical site for us, but encountering the vastly different grapevines needed to produce the wine of Bordeaux was a new experience. Speaking as novices who know nothing about the details of grape varieties and cultivating them for wine, the grape vines of Spain’s wine region appear to be sturdy and stout, able to withstand the variety of weather patterns throughout the year. But the grapevines of Bordeaux are slender, delicate, and graceful looking. Seeing these beautiful, skeletal shapes lined as far as the eye can see juxtaposed against the cloudy sky and quaint cottages took our breath away every time we ventured out.
On our last full day we walked all around the small village we were staying near and did not encounter many people but saw many charming buildings and churches along the way.
We all agreed that we cannot wait for our next trip back to Bordeaux!
Loved reading and looking at your pictures of your trip to wine country.
The four of you are having a wonderful life experience.
Hey Karrie, your necklace is enjoying paradise. Thanks for lending it to me.
Aunt Bonnie and Uncle Jim